Happy Numbers

July 23, 2010

Over at SteamCode, Scott LaBounty suggests that writing a program to compute the happy numbers less than n makes a good interview question. According to Wikipedia:

A happy number is defined by the following process. Starting with any positive integer, replace the number by the sum of the squares of its digits, and repeat the process until the number equals 1 (where it will stay), or it loops endlessly in a cycle which does not include 1. Those numbers for which this process ends in 1 are happy numbers, while those that do not end in 1 are unhappy numbers (or sad numbers).

For example, 7 is a happy number, as 72=49, 42+92=16+81=97, 92+72=81+49=130, 12+32+02=1+9+0=10, and 12+02=1+0=1. But 17 is not a happy number, as 12+72=1+49=50, 52+02=25+0=25, 22+52=4+25=29, 22+92=4+81=85, 82+52=64+25=89, 82+92=64+81=145, 12+42+52=1+16+25=42, 42+22=16+4=20, 22+02=4+0=4, 42=16, 12+62=1+36=37, 32+72=9+49=58, and 52+82=25+64=89, which forms a loop.

Your task is to write a function to identify the happy numbers less than a given limit; you should work at the level of a programming interview, taking no more than about fifteen minutes, and giving a short explanation of your work to the interviewer. When you are finished, you are welcome to read or run a suggested solution, or to post your own solution or discuss the exercise in the comments below.

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